Thursday, March 18, 2021

“Every Day Is St. Patrick’s Day When You’re a Drunk”

 It was one thing to avoid places, another to avoid things. But it was quite another thing to avoid people.

One cold March evening, after a late day at his office, Philip was about to go into Ma’s Diner for his supper, and some shabby-looking guy leaning on a cane near the entrance stuck his hand out.

“Spare a nickel for a cup of coffee for a disabled veteran?”

The guy seemed familiar, but then so many people seemed familiar,

Philip always tried to keep a handful of coins in his pocket. He lived and worked one block from the Bowery after all.

“Here ya go, fella. Take a quarter.”

“Jaysus fuck, if it ain’t old Philip his own self!”

Suddenly the man’s nondescript whining mumble had transformed into a full-throated Irish-accented shout, but Philip still couldn’t place him.

“Doncha know me, Phil-o? You ain’t suffered a bout of brain fever, God forbid.”

The man who had at first seemed hunched-over, crippled, sickly, at death’s front steps if not at its door, now stood erect, vibrant and red-faced, and holding his cane like a club.

“I, uh,” said Philip, “um, I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, sir.”

“It’s me, Seamas!”

“Seamas –” And suddenly with a rush Philip saw the red sweating faces of a score of drunken Seamases on a score of drunken nights, pounding his back and the bar top and shouting and laughing in the chaos of Bob’s Bowery Bar as Philip bought him pint after pint of bock and endless shots of Jameson’s whisky. “Oh, hi, Seamas, good to see you again.”

“Where ya fuckin’ been, ya old fucker? I ain’t seen ya in half a year!”

“Well, in fact I was in a sanitarium, Seamas.”

“Ya don’t say? A touch of the consumption perhaps?”

“No, just alcoholism, I’m afraid.”

“Is that all it was? Not a state institution I hope?”

“No, this was a nice private place upstate in the mountains.”


“Yeah, it’s pretty nice there.”

“A good rest then?”

“Yes, it was good. I was there for five months this time. I needed it –”

“Ah, the best thing for ya now and then. Give the system a bit of a rest, get your strength back and then come back roarin’ for more.”

“Uh, yes, heh heh –”

“Ya wouldn’t have a gasper on ya, would ya, Phil-o?”

“Oh, of course.”

Philip took out a pack of cigarettes, Seamas took one, and then cocked his head.

“Might I just have another for later, old man?”

Philip took out a cigarette for himself and then told Seamas to keep the pack.

“Ah, you’re all right, Phil-o,” said Seamas, as Philip gave him a light. “I don’t care what nobody says about ya. You’re A-okay in my book.”

Philip lighted his own cigarette. He knew roughly where this was all going, but he also knew he had to play it out.

“Goin’ into Ma’s for a bite to eat, were ya, Phil-o?”


“Good food in this place, man. The best. But you know what’s a close second?”


“Ha ha, no. Ya know what’s a good second for a reasonable bite to eat?”

“The Stork Club?”

“You’re killin’ me, man. No. It’s Bob’s Bowery Bar. You ever try the Mulligan Stew at Bob’s?”

“I might have –”

“Bob’s Mulligan Stew, man. Bob’s old mom makes it. They calls it Bob’s Mom’s Mulligan Stew. Get yourself outside a big plate of that, sop it up good with a couple of Bob’s mom’s fresh-baked rolls, and you’re all set for a good night’s roisterin’ and singin’, spoutin’ roundelays and epic pomes to beat the band.”

“Sounds good.”

“Now, nothin’ against the food here in Ma’s Diner, mind ya, nothin’ at all, but Bob’s Mom’s Mulligan Stew? Forget it, man. Of course to truly appreciate it you’ve got to wash it down with a couple of pints of Bob’s proprietary basement brewed bock, and, oh, that’s heaven, man. And you can keep your heaven with its choirs of angels with their harps and white robes, you just give me a bowl of Bob’s Mom’s Mulligan and a couple of pints of bock, and that’s your man, every time.”

“I’ll bet.”

“So what say we head over there right now, just the two of us. A couple big plates of the Mulligan, a couple or three pints of the bock, and you can tell me all about your vacation at that fine sanitarium up in the mountains.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Seamas, your suggestion really does sound good, but I’ve given up drinking.”


“I’ve stopped drinking.”

“What, even bock?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“What about plain beer?”

“That too.”

“So you’re sayin’, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you have abjured and renounced all alcoholic beverages?”

“Yes. I know it’s hard to believe.”

“May I ask you one question, Phil-o?”


“If it ain’t too personal.”

“Go right ahead.”




“Why have I quit drinking?”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head, Phil-o. Why?”

“Well, I just got, you know, sick and tired of the continual cycles of drunkenness and hangover –”

“Okay. Fair play. I can see that.”

“Also, I realized I was killing myself.”

“Okay again. I see your point there.”

“And I was wasting my life.”

“And that’s one way of lookin’ at it, no denyin’ that.”

“And in the mountains I started to enjoy life being sober.”

“Now what do you mean by enjoy life?”

“Just the little things. Not being hungover –”

“Not being hungover.”


“But don’t you miss the madness, man? The sheer rip-roaring foot-stompin’ cock-slappin’ fuck it all of it all.”

“Well, a little, maybe.”

“So let’s go, old stick, you and me. Now as you might have guessed I’m a bit short at the moment, but if you can stand me a night’s drinkin’ I’ll make it up to you.”

“Well –”

“And I know what you’re thinkin’, Seamas will buy me one bock in ten if I’m lucky, but think of the good fellowship, man. Think of the songs I’ll sing, the pomes I will shout, the tall tales I will tell.”

“Yes, it does sound pretty entertaining.”

“Then why are we wastin’ time here, Phil-o?” Seamas put his big hand on Philip’s arm. “Let’s go, pal. You and me. Once more into the breach, full speed ahead and fuck the torpedoes.”

“I’m going to have to pass, Seamas.”

Seamas stared at Philip. He removed his hand from Philip’s arm.

“All right then, Phil-o. I can respect that. I guess you’re going to go into Ma’s then, have your supper.”

“Yes, that was my plan. Would you like to join me?”

“For supper at Ma’s?”

“Yes. My treat.”

“Ah, now that’s very generous of ya, Phil-o, but I have to say, all our previous talk of the Mulligan Stew over at Bob’s has given me a hankerin’ for some of that, so I think I’ll just stand outside here with me cane for a little while longer and see if I can earn a few more coins and then I’ll be headin’ on over to Bob’s.”

Philip reached under his topcoat and brought out his wallet. He opened it, took out a five-dollar bill, and handed it to Seamas.

“Here ya go, Seamas. Have a good time.”

“A fiver!” said Seamas. “Jaysus, man, I would’ve settled gladly for a buck.”

Seamas stuck the bill into the pocket of his raggedy old tweed coat.

“Well –” said Philip.

“Y’know what they all called you, Phil-o?”

“Pardon me?”

“The uptown swell. Philip the uptown swell they called ya. Said you was just a rich guy who came down to the Bowery when he was on a toot, slummin’.”

“Well, they weren’t wrong, Seamas.”

“No, Phil-o, you was doin’ more than just slummin’, man. You was goin’ down to where it’s real, man. Where people make no bones. Where the people know they’re shite. Where they know they’re already dead, but they still don’t fall over.”

“Until they do,” said Philip.

“Until they do,” said Seamas.

Seamas looked away, across Bleecker to the corner of the Bowery. Bob’s Bowery Bar was right around the corner there. He was ready and raring to go, and five dollars was plenty enough to get your load on there, and more.

“Well,” said Philip, “I’ll catch you later, Seamas.”

“I hope so,” said Seamas. “God bless and keep you, Phil-o.”

And, carrying his cane like a club, he launched himself across the street, against the red light, just barely missing being hit by an ice truck.

Philip tossed his cigarette into the gutter and went into Ma’s Diner.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

No comments: